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“The sports world is too clubby”: An interview with industry headhunter Ashling O’Connor

  • Ashling O’Connor, partner, Bird & Co, worked as a sports business journalist before turning hand to senior level appointments in sport and entertainment
  • New sports division at Bird & Co will help sports bodies meet UK government’s new diversity targets
  • Target for proportion of female directors in UK sport rising from minimum of 25 to 30 per cent
I was at the Financial Times for four years. That was as the media correspondent, so I covered the media industry in the dotcom boom and bust and that’s the basis of my contacts in the industry now. I then moved to The Times as a sports writer, randomly, but it was more to write about the business of sport. My first job for The Times was to get on a plane to Tokyo and go to the [Fifa] World Cup in 2002.

The idea was that I could see the story in the numbers and read a balance sheet and see, for example, when Leeds United [football club] was about to go bust. You could see it in the numbers and they were about to [publish] their results the next day and I managed to get hold of someone who confirmed that Peter Ridsdale [the Leeds United chairman at the time] was going to resign and that the whole thing was going to go belly up. I asked the sports editor if it was a sports story and if we could get it on the front of the sports section and he trusted me.

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